Photo/Illutration Job seekers visit a public employment office in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward in April 2020. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

With the third wave of novel coronavirus infections sweeping across the country, more major companies are being forced to reduce their workforces through voluntary retirements.

As of Jan. 19, 21 listed companies plan to seek voluntary retirements among their employees this year, according to Tokyo Shoko Research, a private credit research firm.

That follows the 92 companies that did so in 2020, an increase of 2.6 times from the previous year.

Still, more companies are expected to seek voluntary retirements this year due partly to the expected negative impact on the Japanese economy by the current state of emergency, the second since spring. 

Charle Co., a female underwear and cosmetics company based in Kobe, announced on Jan. 13 that it will seek voluntary retirements among employees aged 50 or older. On the same day, the state of emergency was expanded to an additional seven prefectures, including Osaka, to total 11. 

Kan-Nanmaru Corp., a Saitama operator of an "izakaya" pub chain, also announced plans on Jan. 14  to seek 80 employees who will leave on a voluntary basis.

KNT-CT Holdings Co., a major travel company, started to solicit for voluntary retirements mainly for its affiliated company Kinki Nippon Tourist Co. on Jan. 4.

KNT-CT Holdings has not decided on a target number for voluntary retirements. However, it plans to decrease the number of its shops and reduce by about one-third of the employees in its group companies, including through transferring workers to other companies temporarily and employees reaching retirement age, by the end of fiscal 2024.

The nation saw the highest number of companies seeking such a workforce reduction in 2020 since 191 companies did so in 2009 following the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers.

Broken down by business category, 18 apparel companies, the highest, sought voluntary retirements followed by other businesses, including automotive, electrical equipment, restaurants and retailing.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit companies hard that were already trying to streamline their operations.

In 2020, the total number of employees that companies sought to reduce through voluntary retirements exceeded at least 18,000. For companies that did not announce target figures, the number of those who applied and left was counted instead.